Internal and External Boundaries: Part 1 on Healthy Boundaries and How to Have Them

The next few posts will focus on one topic: Boundaries. Particularly, we will explore what they are, how to have them, and how to communicate them to others. Today’s post will discuss different types of boundaries and why they are useful.

Examples of boundaries can be found on maps. If you look at a map of the United States, you’ll notice many boundaries. There are lines indicating boundaries between the US and Canada as well as Mexico. There are boundaries around each state. If the map is very detailed, you might see boundaries between counties, cities, towns, or districts. Among other things, these lines, or boundaries, help us know who is responsible for what areas. They also let us know who is allowed to be in particular areas and who’s job it is to enforce that.

Similarly, our personal boundaries let us know where other people end and we begin. They also inform us who is responsible for what.

Personal boundaries are what I will or will not do to take care of myself and my responsibilities.

While there are many ways to describe boundaries, let’s look at two of the most common types: internal boundaries and external boundaries.


Internal boundaries govern how I relate to myself and what I allow to happen within my body, heart, and mind.

All of the things happening inside my skin are my responsibility. Meaning I have the ability to respond to them (think: response-ability). These include:

  • My thoughts;
  • My feelings;
  • My physical well-being;
  • My spiritual development.

It is my job to decide how I will care for each of these areas of my life. The actions I take to do so are my boundaries. Let’s look at some internal boundary examples.

Physical Well Being

  • Making a plan for physical movement or exercise and following through with it;
  • Creating and sticking to a food plan that is nutritious and balanced;
  • Listening to my body and responding to its medical needs;
  • Caring for my physical needs for comfort,hygiene, rest, sleep, warmth, and shelter.

Thoughts and Beliefs

  • Paying attention to what information I expose myself to and how often;  

                   o  for example, limiting my exposure to news or alarmist posts and articles on social media

  • Practicing thought stopping;
  • Use of affirmations help fill my mind with positive thoughts in an intentional way;
  • Differentiating between my thoughts and feelings. Though thoughts and feelings are connected, they are not the same thing. Knowing the difference can help us respond to each effectively.

Feelings or Emotions

  • Listening to and allowing myself to feel my feelings;
  • Having safe ways to express my feelings (i.e.,writing, painting, using a broom or bat or stick to hit my bed, talking to a safe, understanding person, allowing myself to cry);
  • Refusing to “take my feelings out on” someone else;
  • Taking a break before reacting out of my emotions ;

                  o  go to the bathroom or outside and breath

                  o  make a phone call

                  o  let the other person know I need a day before I respond

  • Practicing emotional containment so that I can focus on important tasks and express my feelings in a safe and more appropriate setting at a later time;

                 o  i.e., choosing to put something upsetting on the back burner so I can focus on work

  • Not taking on other people’s feelings by remembering they are also responsible for what happens in their skin;
  • Not tolerating emotionally abusive relationships and not being emotionally abusive to others.

Spiritual Development

  • Considering the influences I allow in my spiritual life;
  • Practicing behaviors that help me connect spiritually;
  • Honoring my spiritual beliefs and my spiritual growth;
  • Staying aligned with my Authenticity or my True Self at all times (“To thine own self be true”).



External boundaries govern how I interact and related to people places and things outside of me.

When considering external boundaries, it’s important to remember everyone has them. It is as important for me to respect other people’s boundaries as it is for me to ensure I uphold mine. One way to think of external boundaries is to imagine a hulahoop. I am the one who decides what comes inside or goes outside of my hulahoop. Other people are responsible for managing their hulahoops.

Types of external boundaries include:

  • Physical Space
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Time
  • Environment
  • Privacy

Here are examples of external boundaries.

Physical Space

  • Deciding where and with whom I will go;
  • Not allowing someone to touch me without my permission (and not touching them without theirs);
  • Keeping a comfortable distance between myself and others as is appropriate to the situation and the relationship.
  • Not tolerating physically abusive relationships and not being physically abusive to others.

Sexual Behavior

  • Deciding where, with whom, when and how I will be sexual with another person and honoring their right to do the same;
  • Protecting myself and my sexual partner appropriately (i.e., with contraception and condoms);
  • Limiting my exposure to harmful sexual ideas or behaviors (i.e., pornography, sexual language that is not honoring or safe).
  • Not tolerating or engaging in sexually abusive behaviors.

Environmental Boundaries

  • Choosing how I care for my environment at home and at work;
  • Caring for the world around me;
  • Respecting other people’s property and space and expecting the same for my property and space.

Time Boundaries

  • Choosing how I will spend my time;
  • Ending conversations, interactions, or activities when I believe I have spent enough time and want to move on to something else;
  • Respecting others when they express boundaries regarding how they want to spend their time.


  • Giving intimate information about myself only to those whom I trust and want to be close to;
  • Dressing appropriately and not exposing myself in risky, dangerous, or socially inappropriate ways;
  • Respecting other people’s desires for privacy and not trying to snoop or pry into their business;
  • Not sharing too much information too soon.


External and internal boundaries are important for having healthy relationships with ourselves and with other people. Boundaries help us define who we are and move toward our goals. Read the B.A.S.I.C.s of Boundaries to learn the foundational principles of having boundaries.

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